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United Nations food initiatives

UN creates new food initiatives, names 2020 ‘Year of Plant Health’

The United Nations’ General Assembly last month approved three new resolutions creating awareness plant health, food safety and pulses. The agency created two new international days and one entire year devoted to central issues in global food security and nutrition.

International Year of Plant Health

UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo called the 2020 “International Year of Plant Health” a key initiative highlighting the importance of plant health to enhance food security, protect the environment and biodiversity and boost economic development. With up to 40 percent of global food crops lost annually due to plant pests, the importance of fostering healthy plants is critical for public opinion and policymakers. In economic terms, plant diseases cost the global economy approximately US$220 billion annually while invasive insects contribute to a loss of roughly $70 billion, according to the UN. FAO and the International Plant Protection Convention Secretariat (IPPC) Secretariat spearhead activities related to International Year of Plant Health. An International Plant Health Conference will be among thousands of plant health events to be held around the world during 2020.

“Despite the increasing impact of plant pests and diseases, resources are scarce to address the problem,” Semedo said. “We hope this new International Year of Plant Health will trigger greater global collaboration to support plant health policies at all levels which will contribute significantly to the Sustainable Development Agenda.”

Food safety

Unsafe food causes more than 200 diseases worldwide, including some forms of cancer, highlighting how food security and the battle to eradicate hunger stretches well beyond production and distribution issues. Foodborne diseases impact an estimated 600 million people every year and place a serious burden on human health, particularly young children and people living in low-income regions of the world. Moreover, safe foods contribute positively to trade, employment and poverty alleviation.

The UN resolution called on FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to facilitate the annual observance of World Food Safety Day on June 7 to raise awareness of the global importance to improve food safety. The resolution expressly recognized “there is no food security without food safety.” FAO will co-organize two major international conferences on food safety in 2019, one in Ethiopia in February, and one in Switzerland in April.

Pulses

World Pulses Day will be held annually on Feb. 10 and builds on the successful International Year of Pulses that FAO led in 2016. Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas have multiple virtues, being strong sources of plant-based proteins and amino acids for human diets and offering invaluable ecosystem services, thanks to their ability—when grown as cover crops or explicitly for food—to fix atmospheric nitrogen in soils. On average, cereals grown after pulses yield 1.5 tons more per hectare than those not preceded by pulses, which is equal to the effect of 100 kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer.

The General Assembly also emphasized pulse crops can play a powerful role in improving gender equity, noting they are frequently cultivated by women and noting their high iron content that contributes significantly to the health of women of reproductive age. Pulses are also important sources of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and zinc, and offer a higher-fiber, lower-calorie dietary option than cereals.

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